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It is quite common to see women diving with a generic unisex BCD which are basically designed around a male body shape and you have to wonder why? In the past the choice of ladies specific BCDs was admittedly limited and quite often you had to like the colour pink but today there are a mix of stylish BCDs from most manufacturers, some of which don't even have a hint of pink.
So why would you want to opt for a women's BCD? Basically it comes down to simple fit. Men and women are quite clearly different shapes and most BCDs were designed to fit men as scuba diving has a much higher percentage of male divers. Whilst there is no typical male or female body shape there is obviously some fundamental differences that cause a normal BCD to fit poorly on women.
Generally speaking women have slightly shorter backs and the problem this causes is that weight from the BCD, cylinder and integrated weight system can transferred incorrectly which can lead to muscular discomfort down the spine.
A women's BCD usually has a shorter backplate that not only ensures better weight distribution but also positions and supports the cylinder correctly, helping to prevent it from slapping into your lower back.
The chest and hips are another area of difference between men and women but a unisex BCD will really only accommodate a male physique and still be comfortable. Whilst many chest straps can be adjusted up and down the final positioning is still not great but a women's BCD is designed so that the strap sits higher up or is done away with entirely in favour of comfortable elasticated panels on BCDs like the Zeagle Zena BCD.
The waist strap and cummerbund also suffer with the same problem of positioning, inevitably pushing down or sitting over the top of a weight belt which adds a safety issue of not having sufficient access if the weightbelt needs to be ditched. The problem goes away with a ladies specific BCD thanks to a shorter back and subsequently high strap and cummerbund.
The image below shows a 50/50 split between the Aqualung Pearl BCD and the Aqualung Pro HD BCD. It is immediately obvious how the ladies Pearl BCD raised the straps, pockets and weight system up for a more comfortable fit, the backplate itself is shorter but the bladder extends down further to act as a cushion between the cylinder and your back.
Now more than ever there is so much choice in Women's BCDs that, really, there is no excuse to opt for a standard BCD and be uncomfortable. Most manufacturers have at least one ladies BCD in their range, if not more. Gone are the days where they used to be more expensive than the equivalent specification unisex BCD so take the plunge and buy a women's BCD instead. You won't regret it.